Chinese political game of steps

Despite numerous setbacks and disappointments, the opinion out there is that the Chinese will defend the unity government “until the heavens collapse”.

IT was a significant moment in the new political landscape when Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi turned up at the recent DAP annual general assembly with a team of Umno leaders.

Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Sharkar Samsudin, one of those in the team, was actually quite nervous but from the moment they came through the door, it was as if love was in the air.

There was thunderous applause when DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke welcomed each of them by name. There was also a scramble among the DAP delegates for selfies and to shake hands with the Umno team.

The episode spoke of the politics of pragmatism because this was barely two weeks after the Umno president walked free of 47 corruption charges.

“It’s the new reality. DAP leaders are pragmatic, it is about being in power or being the opposition,” said Sharkar who is also the Pahang state assembly speaker.

Sharkar’s presence that day was also to signal that Umno wants to work with DAP in the coming Pelangai by-election.

DAP is sitting on a rock-solid 95% of Chinese support.

A number of analysts had predicted an erosion of support as a result of disappointment over the government’s struggle to deliver and the questionable settlement of high profile corruption cases. Some even imagined that Chinese voters would go with the other side in the Johor by-elections.

They have completely misread the Chinese mindset.

“The Chinese will defend the unity government till the heavens collapse,” said a lawyer who sits on the board of several Chinese cultural groups.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, said the Chinese lawyer, is the Malay leader that the Chinese have always dreamt of.

“The dream came true when Anwar got to Putrajaya in 2022. It took so long, you think they will give up just like that?” he said.

The Chinese, said the Chinese lawyer, regard Anwar as the “jiu xing” (saving star or saviour) and this dream began many years ago.

Chinese discontent has been simmering since the uneven implementation of the NEP or New Economic Policy. DAP highlighted the inequality, telling the Chinese they were treated like second class citizens and portraying MCA and Gerakan as hiding under the sarung of Umno.

Throughout the 1980s and even 1990s, the community was in search of a Chinese leader to deliver the change they wanted.

It took years for them to realise that politics is about numbers and that even the most outstanding Chinese leader would be unable to push through their aspirations without the cooperation of the majority race.

They had doubts when Anwar began his Reformasi crusade against Umno in 1998 but the thinking class saw in him a mainstream Malay leader who spoke like a Malaysian.

But as the Reformasi wave took shape, Anwar became that special Malay leader.

“I think the idea that Anwar could be the PM for all Malaysians grew from that point. Yes, DAP is there to speak up on Chinese education and culture, but only a Malay leader of a certain stature can bring the change,” said the Chinese lawyer.

The watershed came in the 2008 elections when, for the first time, Selangor, Penang and Kedah fell to Pakatan Harapan. It was a psychological breakthrough for the Chinese who realised the power of their vote and how it could change the government.

There was no turning back. They moved like an unstoppable Chinese tsunami in the 2013 general election and in 2018, they ended the Umno hegemony thanks to another exceptional Malay leader, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The Chinese have swallowed the bitterness of DAP getting fewer Cabinet posts although, with 40 Parliamentary seats, DAP is the biggest party in Putrajaya.

DAP’s Loke has, thus far, navigated the situation with immense maturity – assertive and firm, without being arrogant or pushy.

He saw what happened after 2018 when the obsession with holding the finance portfolio backfired. He understands the strategy of taking one step back and two steps forward.

Despite moving as one in politics, the Chinese are not a homogenous entity. They are complex with multiple vested interests.

Some are bitter and feel betrayed but there is actually very little that Anwar can say or do that will cause the general Chinese populace to abandon him, given how unpalatable the alternative is to them.

A segment of the Chinese thinking class have also become apologists for the regime, asking their fellow Chinese to look at the bigger picture, arguing there is no other choice but to choose the lesser evil.

The moral compass is truly broken once people start defending corruption as the lesser evil.

A retired medical doctor from Penang said that several months ago, local Chinese were upset over news that DAP deputy chairman Gobind Singh Deo might become Penang chief minister.

“It was just a rumour but even if it happened, I think the Chinese in Penang would continue to give their vote to DAP,” he said.

So many red lines have been crossed and there are even voices among some Chinese that it is alright to pardon Datuk Seri Najib Razak for the unity government to go full term.

But can the Chinese be pushed across too many red lines? It is anyone’s guess just how much they can take.

They are aware the next general election will be extremely tough, but that is a battle for another day. And who knows, the Chinese may even be willing to accept PAS if it means continuing to have a seat in Putrajaya.